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food / travel

Kid Crowdfunding Aims To Preserve Sardinian Paradise

When the owners of the tiny, unspoiled island of Budelli went bankrupt and a would-be New Zealand buyer's bid failed, middle school students stepped in, starting an ambitious global fundraising campaign that has gone viral.

Budelli is budiful!
Budelli is budiful!
Nicola Pinna and Matteo Pria

BUDELLI — The tiny island of Budelli, off the coast of northern Sardinia, is an unspoiled and uninhabited gem in the Mediterranean Sea, famous for its pink sand beaches. Part of the Maddalena Archipelago National Park, the island has drawn tourists for decades, but its ownership became a political issue in Italy in 2013 after the owners went bankrupt and a bid of 3 million euros by New Zealand banker Michael Harte to buy the island was beset by legal troubles.

While he planned to preserve the island's unique environment, Harte's bid ultimately failed. That's when a group of middle school students came to Budelli's rescue. The 2B class from the small town of Mosso in northwestern Italy launched a crowdfunding campaign to buy the island and turn it into a "children's island," creating a viral movement that's reaching donors from Moscow to Sydney and even the Caribbean. Many of them had never before heard of the tiny island, but their newfound passion is funding the new buyers after Harte returned to New Zealand and a new auction began.

Fridrik, a pensioner in Iceland, contributed 200 euros. Livio Mencioni, an Italian emigrant to Costa Rica, contributed 60 euros, calling the school to tell them that he "shares their dream" to return the island to Italian ownership. Even Alessandro Gassman, a popular Italian actor, promised during an appearance on an Italian talk show to support the students.

"It's a beautiful idea," he said. "I'm passionate about nature too, and protecting the environment is close to my heart."

Giacomo Paschetto, class 2B's science teacher, is the one who taught the students about Budelli and sparked their interest. "We receive phone calls and letters every day from all over Europe and further afield," he says. "We have offers coming in from Russia, Romania, Ireland, the UK, Australia and even Canada. A local artist is also preparing a performance that we'll share on the Web to promote the project."

Even a group of Russian journalists called the middle school last week, and a story about the young students ran on Moscow-area television. Newspapers in Germany and the UK have also published stories about them, and one in France ran the headline, "Ever thought of utopia? An island of students could be born in Italy."

Sardinia locals are similarly supportive. On the island of La Maddalena, the largest in the protected archipelago and its namesake, people think the students' dream should be shared by everyone.

According to the national park's president Giuseppe Bonanno, their initiative seeks to promote Italian awareness of and pride in their country's natural beauty. "This is a really laudable initiative, and follows the designs we have for Budelli's future," he says. "I will propose establishing a permanent partnership between our park and the school, because public property of our environmental heritage makes it valuable for all and not just for the few."

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